There are rules in tennis and then there are the unwritten rules. These are what solve problems, keep the peace and make the game fun for everyone. But how well do know them and, just as important, apply them?
In the early 1970s, shortly after the professionalisation of tennis, the chairman of the USTA’s Tennis Rules Committee, the late Colonel Nick Powel, realised the official rules did not cover the full gamut of problems. When there is no ref or umpire, custom and tradition also apply and Powel set these down in The Code or The Players’ Guide to Fair Play and the Unwritten Rules of Tennis.
Although it is not part of the world rules of tennis, as defined by the International Tennis Federation, The Code is included in the USTA’s official rules and regs. As its website says: "If players of goodwill follow the principles of The Code, they should always be able to reach an agreement, while at the same time making tennis more fun and a better game for all." Full of commonsense, The Code has come to be accepted in both the pro and amateur game. The LTA, the UK’s governing body, also has a code of conduct and here at LTL, we have had to come up with a few rules of our own.
Here is our guide to the top ten most useful (and perhaps surprising) rules.
1 Courtesy is expected. The golden rule. It’s first rule of The Code and fundamental in LTL. As the colonel said: “Tennis is a game that requires cooperation and courtesy."
2 Walking off court Anyone who walks off court and refuses to complete the match will be deemed to have defaulted themselves. Part of the LTA’s Code of Conduct, it's a reminder not to stomp off unless you are prepared to lose the match!
3 Spectators never make calls We had reason to query this part of The Code last time we were at an ITF Seniors Tournament in Mallorca. Jorge, the umpire, forcefully agreed with it. Consulting spectators on line calls is absolutely forbidden!
4 Players make calls on their own side of the net. This is such a well known and widely accepted rule, we had not realised we have the colonel and his Code to thank for it. But please note the next point!
5 Players call their own shots out. Powel’s Code says that with the exception of the first serve, a player should call out their own shots. “The prime objective in making calls is accuracy,” he said. “All players should cooperate to attain this objective.” We couldn’t have put it better ourselves (though it would have been interesting to know why the first serve is excepted).
6 Walkovers An LTL rule and one of the most misunderstood! Recognising that it is hard to set up matches, this rule is designed to deter last minute cancellations and compensate the other player if it happens. So if a player cancels an arranged match with less than 24 hours to go, or fails to turn up for an arranged match within 30 minutes of the start time and no explanation during that time, the other player can claim a walkover. Walkovers may not be self-awarded out of frustration howsoever caused!
7 A ball that cannot be called out is good. In other words, you give your opponent the benefit of the doubt (and he or she gives it to you). Powel's own frustration about how 'infuriating' mis-calling the lines can be is evident in the way he wrote about this rule but the key thing to remember is: if a ball cannot definitely be called out, it is IN!
8 Bonus points & third set tie breaks LTL's rules and regs state that tie breaks played in lieu of a third set do not count towards bonus points. If walkovers are our most contentious rule, this is a close second. We have made the rule because the majority of players deem it to be unfair to get bonus points if a full set was not played. (This rule does not apply in the handful leagues where, because of pressure on court time, short format matches are played.)
9 All points played in good faith stand. If, for example, after losing a point, a player discovers that the net was four inches too high, the point stands, according to The Code.
10 Touching the net, double bounces, hitting the ball before it has crossed the net. If any of these things happen, you lose a point, but it is up to the player involved to make these calls, says Powel. The opponent is not entitled to!
Test yourself on The Code next time you play!
Full details of The Code can be found here